While some items of used clothing are sold through charity shops, a large quantity of material is collected for sorting - either in the UK or abroad - and then exported for sale in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. While these countries provide valuable end markets for UK textile merchants, they are vulnerable to market fluctuations as a result of economic and political pressures.
Material which is not suitable for reuse can often be turned into wiping cloths or used for carpet underlay and specifications have also been drawn up for these by the wiper and cloth manufacturers division of the Textile Recycling Association.
Rising prices, a few years ago, prompted concerns of theft from banks and door-to-door collections. Collectors, sorters and reprocessors in the UK are represented by the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) which has developed a Code of Practice for its members alongside other guidelines and codes for the textiles reclamation industry.
The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that in 2012 a third of all clothing bought in the UK ended up in landfill, with around 350,000 tonnes of material disposed of in this manner. WRAP said that if this material was donated for reuse or recycling it could generate up to £140 million in revenue. The study also found that 540,000 tonnes of used clothing was reused with more than two thirds of this sent overseas.
The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) was launched in 2009 which saw key stakeholders in the textiles industry outline how they planned to increase their sustainability. One way this is hoped to be achieved is through the SCAP 2020 Commitment which sees retailers, government departments and the British Retail Consortium (among others) sign up to voluntary targets to reduce the waste, water and carbon footprints of clothing by 2020, against a 2012 baseline.
In addition, work has been undertaken to develop end markets for non-clothing textiles, such as mattresses and carpets - of which WRAP believes only 20% of the 630,000 tonnes of material that enters the waste stream every year is recycled.
Three textile guide price categories are shown here:
Textile banks - this reflects the amount that may be paid to a local authority or a waste management company, usually by a collector for material from textile banks. The payment may be amended if the local authority has to pay a bank hire fee or an element of the collection costs and if a donation is made to a charity.
Shop collections - this price indicates the amount which may be paid by a collector to a charity shop for clothes the shop has not sold to the public directly. Prices vary on content from poorer quality material through to clothes and leather items.
Sorting plant (clothing, textiles and rags) - this is a general term for material in bulk, delivered to the factory of a larger textile collecting business which often exports used clothing and textiles, typically a large Sorting Plant or Depot.